The Common Good
September-October 2001

Speaking Truth to Police Power

by Rose Marie Berger, Susannah Hunter | September-October 2001

Truth commissions have brought to light atrocities in South Africa, El Salvador, and elsewhere across the globe. But some feel such hearings are needed closer to home.

Truth commissions have brought to light atrocities in South Africa, El Salvador, and elsewhere across the globe. But some feel such hearings are needed closer to home.

Police in Prince George's County, Maryland, have shot 122 people in the last 11 years, according to The Washington Post, killing 47 of them. County police have the highest number of fatal shootings per officer in the country. Almost half of those shot were unarmed; many had committed no crime. After investigation by police officials, every single shooting was deemed "justified."

So this summer, a groundbreaking "truth commission" was convened in a local public library by representatives of Amnesty International, the U.S. Department of Justice, and a group called the People's Coalition for Police Accountability. "These are landmark hearings," said Amnesty International's Jonathan Hutto. "The average American operates on the idea that America is the symbol of human rights in the world. They believe ‘truth commissions' are only in other countries like Bosnia and South Africa, but in reality U.S. police are enforcing a culture of oppression."

Incidents of police brutality in P.G. county are also skyrocketing. According to Hutto, when Verly Taylor-a county resident who was arrested, handcuffed, maced, and beaten by police-was asked why these truth commissions were needed, she responded, "because P.G. County is still in America, and in America no one is above the law."

Redmond Barnes of St. Paul Church in Capitol Heights, Maryland, helped organize the hearings. "I saw black people who had been victimized come into a public place," Barnes said, "into the presence of the media and police to tell their stories to investigators from the Justice Department." Given the history of relations between the black community and the police department, Barnes called those who testified "nothing less than heroic."

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